Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Retro Reviews: The Simpletones - I Have A Date

If you start naming all the most underrated and overlooked bands of first wave punk, you turn to southern California and the list starts to fill up fast. While maybe not as good as The Gears, or as important as The Dils, or as influential as The Crowd, Rosemead, California's Simpletones may have been more underrated than all of the above. Among the band's members were Snickers of The Klan, Jerry Koskie and Rabit from The Cheifs, and Jay Lansford of the Stepmothers, Channel 3, and Rik L Rik. Considering that they were kind of precursors to what would be later termed "pop-punk" (albeit with an authentic early punk edge), the Simpletones merit a special place in history. It's absolutely shocking, then, that their music has not been kept in print. Immortalized on Poshboy's 1979 Beach Blvd compilation, the Simpletones are loved by record collectors and original So-Cal punks but completely unknown to the more casual fan. That's a damn shame.

I can't tell you for sure if The Simpletones were an influence on the Descendents, but I'll bet you a six-pack that Milo, Bill Stevenson, et al owned Beach Blvd and played it 'til it wore out. While a number of bands beyond the sea were incorporating melody into the punk rock sound, the Simpletones were one of few American punk groups of their era to be overtly "pop" both in sound and sensibility- wearing a Beach Boys influence on their sleeves and writing songs about girls. But while these lads were typically hormonally-driven teens with designs on the fairer sex, they weren't nice, clean-cut kids…they were punks! If the Beach Boys in the '60s typified the bright sun and innocent fun of Southern California life, the Simpletones were like their wayward sons a generation later – going to school high on drugs, chasing girls of ill repute, and unable to really enjoy the beach because of all the smog polluting the air. And although the band's anthem "California" reads lyrically like an early Beach Boys song, it's sung with such disdain and irony that it leaves no doubt that these kids believed they lived in a shithole. As redolent as "Tiger Beat Twist" and "Kirsty Q" may be of Dick Clark approved teen idol rock n' roll, this was not your grandfather's beach band. "I Have a Date" is so wholesome and cute on the surface, but you just know that this date is going to end not with a kiss on the front porch, but rather with a sordid coupling under the boardwalk or a drug binge at some stranger's house. And like the Ramones, whom they clearly emulated, the Simpletones were not against using the three-minute pop song as a vehicle for twisted social commentary. Note the black-humored environmentalism of "Dead Meat (Killer Smog)" or the way-ahead-of-its-time statement "TV Love".

Released back in 2002, the 22-track retrospective I Have a Date gives you EVERYTHING the Simpletones recorded during their original run – the Beach Blvd tracks, the "Kirsty Q" 45 (which was Poshboy #2 – how's that for historic?!), and all sorts of outtakes, which if not quite first-rate, are still a hell of a lot of fun (e.g. "Nasty Nazi" and a disco rendition of the Dickies' "You Drive Me Ape"). Featuring three different lead singers but held together by Lansford's superb songwriting and guitar work, these songs just sound like late '70s southern California – the half-spoken vocals that manage to convey boredom and anger, the melodic sensibility that's practically imbedded in the Californian's DNA, and the chip on your shoulder that can only come from having to watch entitled tourists frantically descend upon your home turf like they own it. As such, these songs have as much in common with the Adolescents or early Social Distortion as they do with any modern pop-punk band you could name. The best of these songs – "I Like Drugs", "I Have a Date", "Don't Bother Me" – are as classic as anything in the annals of punk rock. Lansford reformed the band a few years ago, and they even released a new album in 2010. But there's nothing like the classic material. Considering that dozens upon dozens of lesser bands have been given the full reissue/anthology treatment, it seems high time for I Have a Date to return to print. In the meantime, happy hunting. Land yourself a copy of the 1991 CD reissue of Beach Blvd, and that will do you almost as well!






-L.R.

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